So, while Malcolm went off to do some ‘real mountaineering’, (i.e. conquering snow-capped peaks with crampons, ice-axe and a qualified guide), I offered to take his wife, Helen, on one of my favourite walks in the Val d’Hérens. The ridge above the ski resort of Thyon 2000 takes you over some smaller peaks to Mont Rouge at 2,491m / 8,173 ft. On a fine day the views extend in all directions to no less than 52 peaks over 2,000m / 6,562 ft. Fabulous!
For those of you unfamiliar with the term Via ferrata, let me briefly explain…
It literally means ‘Iron way’ and it provides a means of climbing up a rockface with ‘protection’. By that I mean there is a fixed cable to which you can attach yourself, so that you don’t completely fall to the ground. You wear a climbing harness attached to two short ropes which you then clip onto the cable. In Switzerland, there are often metal rungs or plates or even sometimes ladders to help you climb. In the Dolomites, (where many via ferrata were built during the First World War to aid the movement of the troops to protect the frontier), the climbing is more often on the rock, but the cable is always there as a safety mechanism. At various points along the cable, it’s firmly fixed to the rock, so you have to unclip from one section to move onto the next. Having climbed to the top, you simply walk back down a path to the start, as there is no need to climb back down again. (Indeed you shouldn’t, otherwise you might block the way up for anyone climbing up behind you).
We are lucky enough to have a Via ferrata route here in Evolène and Malcolm, one of our guests this week, was keen to do it. Both he and I haven’t done it for over 4 years, so I know that I’ve never posted anything about this before… 🙂 I hope you’re not scared of heights!
One of the advantages of living in or near a ski resort, is that the ski lifts often run during the summer too. About 2 km/1 mile along the road from Evolène, the chairlift from the small hamlet of Lanna takes you up from around 1,400m/4,600ft to Chemeuille at just over 2,100m/6,700ft. From there it’s a very pleasant and not too demanding walk up to the top of the Pic d’Artsinol at 2,998m/9,836ft. From there the views extend in all directions and include the Dixence Dam as well as the Matterhorn. (See pics 16 & 17).
A couple of weeks ago I had a free afternoon, so I drove up to Ferpècle to see how the flowers were coming out. (I recall previously spending an hour taking photographs of many, many different plants in the space of just a few hundred yards). However the spring in my step soon came to a juddering halt when I saw what can only be described as a scene of devastation on the track to the west flank of the valley. A huge avalanche over the winter has flattened and completely uprooted, or broken in two, many of the trees – luckily when nobody would be in that area. The lower lying bushes seem to have escaped the damage, perhaps due to their flexibility or maybe because they would already be submerged in deep snow. But the whole scene was quite shocking. Many of my family members, who follow this blog, have walked up that valley and they may also be shocked by some of the pictures below.
Thankfully, the east side of the valley was completely untouched and I’m sure the area will recover once all the debris is cleared. But it’s incredible to think of what Mother Nature can do to itself and the immense forces involved.
I’m afraid I’ve been falling behind with my blogging – partly due to the World Cup and partly due to a long weekend back in the UK. So now is the time to catch up…
Just over 2 weeks ago, on the 20th June to be precise, I decided that the weather had been warm enough to try a slightly higher level walk from Arolla (at around 2,000m / 6,500 ft) up to the Aiguilles Rouges mountain hut, (at around 2,800m / 9,200 ft). My plan was to drive to La Gouille, take the Postbus up to Arolla, walk to the hut and then back down to La Gouille. I expected to encounter some snow, but certainly not as much as there was.
I had no real problems getting to the hut, as you will see below, but when I looked at the amount of snow on the first part of the descent, I simply had to return the way I’d come due to the danger of creating an avalanche. It had been a warm day and the snow can ‘sweat’ underneath, causing it to slide. As I’d left my car at La Gouille, I took the path back from Arolla towards Satarma and encountered a rather unusual creature which I didn’t think existed… (See pic 27).
Last week I did one of my regular walks from the chalet to the small village of Eison. It’s always a good route for spotting butterflies and I wasn’t disappointed, as I managed to capture (digitally of course) a ‘new’ one for me, i.e. the Clouded Apollo in Pic 13. I also noticed a chamois in the meadow above the Chapelle de la Garde (which isn’t far from the main road down to Sion), but I was a little slow with my camera and it was walking away by the time I zoomed in and pressed the button.
As you can see from the Route map at the end, it’s a circular walk of around 12k / 7.5 miles with a height gain of 600m or nearly 2,000 ft.
Since returning from our holiday, the weather in the Valais has been gradually getting warmer and warmer (e.g. it’s nearly 32 degrees C/ 90 F in Sion today). So it was with this in mind, as well as the need to get a
bit lot fitter, that I’ve been out walking for the past week or so.
Last Thursday, I did what I would describe as a medium level walk (in both distance and actual height terms*) from Evolène up through Villa to the Mayens de Cotter then across to the tiny hamlet of Le Prélet and down to Les Haudères, via Le Tsaté and La Forclaz (VS).
*For the statisticians amongst you, ‘medium’ in this sense was 11.4k or 7 miles with a total ascent of 950m / 3,100 ft. The traverse from the Mayens de Cotter to Le Tsaté undulated between 2,000 and 2,200 metres, or 6,500 and 7,200 ft.
Some time ago now I discovered this fabulous website which covers all of the butterflies found in Switzerland. I then read that the website authors, Vincent and Michel Baudraz, have also produced a book, though only in French, which helps novices like me to identify the different species. It’s not foolproof of course, as you sometimes need to see the both the upperside and underside to get an absolute fix on which one it might be.
Anyway, I ordered a copy and it arrived just after I returned from holiday. So, to test it out, I went out along the path behind our chalet one evening last week to take a few photos. On returning, I was pleasantly surprised to find out how easy the book was to use* and that I had managed to photograph 9 different types of butterfly in just an hour and a half.
*Essentially the identification part of the book works by asking you if the butterfly conforms to certain broad criteria (white, yellow, blue, predominantly red or orange, etc) and depending upon your answer, you’re pointed to another section, which asks more detailed questions. This is repeated until you narrow it down to the exact butterfly. Each section is accompanied by wonderfully accurate drawings to help you identify which section to go to next. Towards the back of the book there are again beautifully detailed drawings of each one, showing both the male and female, upper and lower wings, to help you confirm your identification.
As you may know, I like to educate as well as entertain, so…
Transhumance – what is it? It’s a word that I’d certainly never come across in all my long years until my very learned friend, Pete, told me about it. Dictionary.com defines it as:
“the seasonal migration of livestock, and the people who tend them, between lowlands and adjacent mountains.”
Although a noun, it’s derived from the French verb transhumer – to shift ground, which itself is modelled on the Spanish, trashumar.
This activity takes place in our local villages twice a year, but I’ve never got involved until yesterday, when I accepted an open invitation from Marius of the Ferme de Clos Lombard to accompany his cows up to the meadows near Lac d’Arbey.
The cows spend most of the winter down in the valley inside their sheds, only coming out if and when the weather allows. So you can imagine their joy at spending the summer on the open fields high on the alpage (that’s the verdant area of open land between the valley and the high, rocky mountain peaks).
After setting off through the village and briefly along the road to Lannaz, the procession of cows and people took to the path up to the far side of Lac d’Arbey. About half way, there was a short pause for the cows, and some of the people I might add, to catch their breath. (I know how they feel after a winter of inactivity!) Two or three (cows that is) made bids for early freedom, but they were soon brought back into line by the helpful followers. And then finally, after a few more short breaks, we all arrived at the lake where not only the cows took to wading in…
I thought I’d finish this Corsican holiday series with a few other photos which didn’t make it into the main series of posts. I hope they’ve all given you a flavour of what Corsica is like.
You will also see below that when I get bored on a beach, I resort to the pastime of stone stacking, which I have to say is very therapeutic. My stacks (pics 26-30) certainly created a lot of interest for the people who were walking along the coastal path. It’s actually easier to do than it might look. You just need a bit of patience! Of course, mine are nowhere near as good as most rock balancers. Check out some of the videos online, but here is a link to a beginners guide that I found. Happy stacking! 😊